Family council, firefighters scrutinize nursing home's evacuation plan

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By Linda Ireland

Management of Sunrise Manor Nursing Home and local emergency services staff have been working together to solve some issues that arose during a fire last summer.

An overhead light caught fire in a patient’s room just before 11 p.m. June 9, resulting in the evacuation of four rooms.

Hodgenville Fire Chief Wally Sparks said the staff already had put out the flames using a fire extinguisher by the time firefighters arrived and no one was injured.

Ben Adkins, media relations manager for Signature Healthcare, the company that has managed the 137-bed county-owned nursing home for the last three years, told the Herald News “a component in a lighting fixture malfunctioned and created a few sparks.”

Chief Sparks said it was a good outcome for all concerned – but firefighters were stymied in their efforts to make sure no flames remained in the building. 

The circuit breaker box was locked and there was difficulty finding a key. The breakers themselves were unmarked – leaving firefighters with no way of knowing which breaker affected which wing of the two-story nursing home.

There were no directional signs with room numbers in the nursing home, said Sparks. An EMT who was at the nursing home on an unrelated matter helped them find the correct wing.

 In October, additional problems were noted when the fire department, emergency management and city police had an “emergency practice drill” at Sunrise. 

Sparks said the firefighters did not have access to all areas of the facility. 

And, outside gas meters had tools attached, readily available for anyone to turn off or on.

Most of those issues have been addressed and corrected, he said. There are now directional signs, firefighters have an access key and the circuit breakers are marked. But he continues to be concerned about the facility’s evacuation plan.

During the Oct. 29 drill, firefighters attempted to evacuate “patient” 911 Coordinator Nathan Hall from the second floor. It took three men 22 minutes to strap Hall inside a large plastic sled – called a Med Sled – and lower him down the two flights of stairs, said Sparks, who filmed the exercise. 

There are five Med Sleds hanging in stairwells around the facility. There are 62 beds on the second floor.

The men were dissatisfied with the time it took to move a “cooperative” person from the facility.

Sparks and other firefighters expressed their concerns with Sunrise Manor’s Family Council, a group of family members who work with nursing home administrators to improve the lives of residents. 

The Family Council, which has been active about a year, and several guests reviewed the film Nov. 21. Several people said they, too, were concerned about the time it took to move one patient.

 “We need to come up with a plan to help us all sleep a little better at night,” said Jimmy Rogers, the president of the council.

Sunrise Administrator Crystal Hamilton has been at the helm of the facility about three weeks after being on medical leave. She referred questions to Adkins.

Fire drills conducted monthly

“Our residents’ safety and well-being are, of course, priority number one for us at Signature Healthcare of Sunrise Manor,” he said, in an email. “All of our staff members undergo disaster preparedness training at orientation, as well as once a year trainings that serve as reminders. Fire drills are conducted monthly.

Our facility, equipment and fire evacuation plan are reviewed annually by both the local fire marshal and the state Office of the Inspector General. Both authorities have conducted inspections in 2013, and Sunrise Manor is in compliance with all requirements.

Signature works to create an environment and culture of transparency and open communication, and we want to hear any concerns the family members of our residents might have. We will do our best to alleviate those concerns and provide security and peace of mind that their loved ones’ medical and safety needs are being met.”

Representatives for Med Sled said training would improve the 22-minute evacuation scenario.

Ron Gear, regional sales manager for Med Sled, said a trained person can load a patient inside one of the sleds in about two minutes. The time to pull the sled will vary depending on the distance. It takes another minute or two to lower the patient down the stairs.

“It’s designed to allow two ‘lightweight’ employees (to evacuate someone) from a multi-story facility,” he said. 

Many variables can come into play including whether the patient is cooperative and the medical equipment that may need to accompany the patient.

Med Sled offers web-based or onsite training for its product and an instruction sheet for each sled. The fully-assembled sled costs about $350. 

The company’s website said the sled is used in more than 2,800 facilities including the Mayo Clinic.

Sunrise Manor’s fire safety inspection summary showed several deficiencies since its opening in 2011, however, all items had been corrected by Oct. 31, according to medicare.gov.

Inspectors determined the building did not have a record of quarterly fire drills for each shift under varying conditions, proper backup exit lighting, automatic sprinkler system connected to the fire alarm system, portable fire extinguishers and properly located and lighted “exit” signs on April 23. The issues were corrected in June.

The evacuation plan has met the approval of the State Fire Marshal’s office, said Sparks.

First responders have asked to meet with a representative from the State Fire Marshal’s office on Dec. 2; however, Sparks said it has not been confirmed. 

The State Fire Marshal’s office has not responded to messages left by The LaRue County Herald News.

Editor’s Note: Family councils were authorized by the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act. Families of nursing home residents have the right to private meetings at the nursing home. Staff and administrators have access by invitation only. The facility is required to cooperate with council’s activities and respond to concerns. 

The LaRue County Herald News was invited to attend the Nov. 21 meeting.